Tuesday 18 October 2022
New poll reveals over half of all parents with young children in Britain – over 2 million families – are struggling financially or with their mental health, as 1 in 3 struggle to get professional support – UNICEF UK
- 59% of parents say they are struggling with their mental health and 66% have been negatively affected by the rising cost of living
- Parents with very young children cite a lack of support as a key factor in their struggle, with 1 in 3 struggling to see a health care professional as services are stretched to breaking point following the pandemic – despite the heroic efforts of overstretched staff
- Families forced to make impossible decisions due to cost-of-living increases as new poll reveals almost 1 in 5 parents on low incomes are skipping meals to pay for childcare
- For those parents feeling the pinch from the rising cost-of-living, just under half have already cut back on their electricity and gas usage with 1 in 10 unable to properly heat their home as winter approaches
- Huge variations in the level of care and support available depending on where families live
- Children’s futures at risk as charity says UK Government must do more to support the nation’s parents and carers
Over 2 million families with children under 5 are struggling financially or with their mental health, the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) has today (18th October) warned as it encourages the new Prime Minister to support the nation’s parents and carers and put the needs of young children at the heart of decision making.
The charity’s new report, Early Moments Matter is a stark snapshot of families struggling to get professional support for themselves and their children as they recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, battle increases in the costs of basic essentials and grapple with expensive childcare costs.
The report, which includes new polling from YouGov, reveals that 1 in 3 parents – over 1 million families– are struggling to get any professional support, with 37% struggling to get help when their child is unwell. The charity warns that the first years of a child’s life are critical, and the lack of basic support is putting children’s immediate and long-term wellbeing and development at risk.
The report highlights how basic support services like health visiting, mental health support, affordable early education and childcare should be available for everyone regardless of where they live – but instead gaps in availability means families across the country are missing out. UNICEF UK warns that waiting lists are long, provision is patchy and, in some areas, not there at all. This lack of support is having a damaging effect on children’s healthy development and parents’ mental health.
“Where you’re going in life shouldn’t be determined by where you live and the support and services your parents and carers are able to access in that location when you are a young child.” warns UNICEF UK’s Chief Executive, Jon Sparkes OBE
“Up and down the country, we’re hearing how the rise in the cost of living, expensive childcare, a lack of mental health support and a scarcity of basic, local support services, are affecting children’s life chances and pushing families to breaking point. We need to act now to support families and protect children’s futures” continued Sparkes.
In a nationally representative survey parents of 0–4-year-olds said the key issues were:
- Mental health: almost 60% of parents have struggled with their mental health – as cost-of-living increases and stretched services leave them without support, with parents on lower incomes most likely to struggle with their mental health. Over 3 in 4 of those struggling to access support for their children feel frustrated, with more than 40% feeling angry or anxious and over a third feeling abandoned.
- Cost-of-living: Parents and carers are forced to make impossible choices, with just under a quarter of a million choosing between eating a meal and paying for childcare. For those already struggling financially, just under half of all parents and carers have cut back on their electricity and gas usage with 1 in 10 unable to heat their homes.
In a snapshot of struggling families, the polling also showed parents struggle with making appointments and receiving health visits:
- Making appointments: When polled, over 1.3 million parents – more than a third of parents – have struggled to see a healthcare professional when their very young child was unwell. Among those struggling to access support, over 70% have faced long waits for appointments and almost 30% have been promised follow up appointments that didn’t materialise.
- Receiving health visits: 1 in 10 parents – just under half a million – reported not receiving any of their minimum health visits, while half say they received some of what they are entitled to. Nearly 1 in 5 parents in London – more than 93,000 reported not receiving a single health visit since their child was born. Parents and carers in low-income households are worst affected, with almost a fifth (18%) of those earning under £10k not receiving any health visits.
The research shows some clear regional disparities when it comes to the experiences of parents and carers, with YouGov data revealing the hardest place to access support is the South East (39%) and East of England (36%). As well as the regional disparities, UNICEF UK’s data finds that these challenges are often felt worst by families on lower income brackets.
Sparkes added: “We know that services are stretched, and parents and carers are doing their best with the resources they have. But the fact is that, for many babies, toddlers and their families, essential support services are in limited supply.
“While there are a range of sources setting out what services should be available for every baby and toddler in England, there is no central overview of where this core support does and doesn’t exist, no easily accessible information for parents and carers about what they are entitled to, or a plan for filling the gaps.
“Efforts to address these challenges, through initiatives like the Start for Life offer, Levelling Up Vision and Plan for Patients are a start, but we need to go further. The solution is for leaders to make a guaranteed and lasting commitment to children’s early years, supporting parents and carers, and putting the needs of babies and toddlers at the heart of their decision making.”
UNICEF UK state that decades of under investment in early childhood services mean that today babies, toddlers and families are not getting the support they need across a range of vital services. The needs of babies, young children and their families are also overlooked in national policy responses that affect their lives. The children’s charity is calling for a re-think in baby and toddler services and improved support for our youngest citizens and their families by introducing a ‘National Baby and Toddler Guarantee,’ which would set out the basic services that every young child in the UK is entitled to – whoever they are and wherever they are born. This would mean that families know what support is there for their baby’s health, well-being, and early education, right from the start. According to UNICEF UK, the UK Government can do this by:
- Committing to making The National Baby and Toddler Guarantee a reality for every young child across the country that covers health visiting, maternity services, mental health support and early education and childcare
- Making early childhood a national priority for the Government with Cabinet-level leadership to drive the delivery of The National Baby and Toddler Guarantee across the country, which ensures coherence between government departments and fills the gap in policy making
- Delivering a cross-Government early childhood strategy, which builds on the vision and commitments in Start for Life, and responds to the challenges of workforce, funding, and governance with joint outcomes for early childhood development and that sits across Government departments
- Committing to tracking and monitoring progress towards delivery of The Guarantee for every young child across England
Sparkes continued “Every child has the right to a happy, healthy childhood. We know that the experiences in the first few years of a child’s life will shape their life chances – how long and healthy their life will be, whether they will make friends and develop relationships, even how much money they will earn.
“While measures have been announced to tackle GP waiting times and support for energy bills, targeted support for families and children must be at the heart of the UK Government’s response.
“We have a community of capable, passionate professionals and a nation of dedicated parents and carers – they need the right support to ensure the nation’s youngest citizens can flourish.” concluded Sparkes.
UNICEF UK’s Early Moments Matter campaign launches today. Sign up to UNICEF UK’s petition calling on the UK Government to introduce a National Baby and Toddler Guarantee here: https://www.unicef.org.uk/campaign-with-us/early-moments-matter/
For more information, please contact:
Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, [email protected]
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work for children. We also promote and protect children’s rights in the UK and internationally. We are a UK charity, entirely funded by supporters.
United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), Registered Charity No. 1072612 (England & Wales), SC043677 (Scotland).
Notes to Editors:
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3564 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th – 18th August 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted to be representative of parents by regional distribution only.
- Low incomes is defined as households on under £10,000 per year.
- By ‘parents’ we mean parents, guardians and carers of at least one child aged 0 to 4 years old living in Great Britain.
- Calculations of equivalent numbers of parents are based on YouGov’s nationally representative panel of GB Adults estimates that there 3.6 million parents of children aged 0-4 in the GB population (correct as of 31/08/2022). A sample size of 3500 at a 95% confidence level gives a 2% margin of error.
- For over 50 years, UNICEF UK has been working to advocate for lasting change for children here in the UK and our domestic programmes reach over 2.5 million children every year in the hospitals where they are born, the schools where they learn and the services that shape their early childhood.
- The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative enables public services to better support families with feeding and developing close and loving relationships so that all babies get the best possible start in life. The majority of maternity units (93%) and health visiting services (90%) across the UK are now working towards Baby Friendly accreditation. New neonatal and children’s centre standards have been introduced to help services improve care.
Low incomes means households on under £10,000 per year
There are an estimated 3.6 million parents of children in this age group in Great Britain. From this we have estimated that 1.2 million families are affected
There are an estimated 3.6 million parents of children in this age group in Great Britain. From this we have estimated that 229,000 families are affected
There are an estimated 3.6 million parents of children in this age group in Great Britain. From this we have estimated that 1.3 million families are affected
 There are an estimated 3.6 million parents of children in this age group in Great Britain. From this we have estimated that 435,000 families are affected